Much to my wife's horror and dismay- our kids have taken after me. Sure, they get their good looks and kind disposition from her, but from me they receive an overwhelming desire to turn over rocks and logs in search of crawly things.
And so it was that they happily brought two salamanders to me today as I was working. One salamander was the badly named Slippery Salamander, a species we had seen many times before. The other was a new species to us- the gorgeous Long-tailed Salamander.
My sons, Sebastian and Shepherd, were plenty excited about their find. Sebastian quickly recited the play-by- play of the capture. "We had just turned over this rock by the driveway," said Sebastian. "At first I thought it was a snake- cause all I saw was the tail, so I said 'Snake!' But then I saw the rest of its body and saw it was a salamander. Can we keep it?"
As I had mentioned earlier, I have never seen a Long-tailed Salamander, either in a field guide or in the wild. I was thinking that it was a Tiger Salamander based upon its reddish-orange coloration and vertical black stripes. (I had heard of Tiger Salamanders but had never seen one. After seeing photos of both on the internet, it turns out that The Long-tailed Salamander doesn't look anything like a Tiger Salamander.) It seems that Sebastian has the eye of a scientist. The salamander is so named because of its long tail. Even its scientific name of Eurycea longicauda indicates the same.
The vertical black stripes on the tail of this salamander are an important characteristic. The Long-tailed Salamander is the only salamander in the eastern part of the United States that has vertical striping. I like it when nature is kind enough to provide such a simple key for identification of a species! It sure beats spending many hours scouring the internet trying to identify a plant or animal- those are valuable hours that could be spent turning over rocks and logs. . .
The main reason that I haven't seen this bright orange- hard to miss- salamander is because they do not crawl from beneath their rocks until after the darkness of night has descended and usually after a rainfall as well. That isn't exactly my prime critter hunting time.
My sons almost always ask the following two questions whenever we discover a "new" animal.
- Is it poisonous? (or related question- does it bite?)
- What does it eat?
What does it eat? Let me put it this way- if this salamander were to travel to a restaurant with an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, it would load up on earthworms, spiders, centipedes, snails, and insects. I'm not sure what it would eat for dessert- maybe a cricket?
And yes, the tail of the Long-tailed Salamander can detach from the rest of the salamander if caught by a careless little boy or girl. But not to worry, the salamander can regrow another tail.
Odd Bit of Information
Out of curiosity, I decided to research the number of colleges or high schools that list the salamander as their mascot. I was able to locate only one high school in New Zealand that lists the salamander as its mascot. It is also the name of their yearbook. (source)